“He should be out getting dirty, playing with friends and bringing home lizards and pyrite.”
“That’s not who he is, dear. Mulley, he has an elevated mind.”
“He’s seven. Don’t tell me such nonsense.”
Mulley sat up the cement stairs, around the corner from where his parents were discussing his behavior. He had his palms against the slick stone. Why is it so hot outside but wonderfully cool inside?
He removed his sandals, crept down and around the last stair then slipped through the open breezeway, past the fountain, and out into the desert. He made sure to step only on hard ground as he headed toward a niche in the rocks, a shadowed pocket that looked out over an arroyo full of saguaro and grease wood.
There he sang the funny songs he made up about things around his home:
Tortoise is tough.
Coyote is coy.
Mousey is meek.
And all Mulley’s toys.
And he’d squint his eyes and look off into nowhere… If a triangle fits perfect in a circle and the circle fits perfect in a square, how much space is in the gaps? Mulley spent every solitary moment contemplating the puzzles he found in the world.
Only his sister knew where he hid when he didn’t want to be found.
“Mulley. Mulley, time for lunch,” she yelled from her second story window.
“Dad,” he began as he wandered in from the backyard, past the fountain and into the cool darkness of his father’s study, its drapes pulled tight, and its tile floor refrigerator cold. “Dad,” he had never called his father ‘daddy’, “if airplanes keep flying higher and higher, could they fly into space?”
Mulley’s father had been playing devil’s advocate with his wife. They both knew of their boy’s tendency for isolation and odd questions. Their observations, even the therapists’ observations, had indicated that Mulley treated other children, not as equals, but as subjects for study.
“Lunch is ready, boy. Your sister’s made you peanut butter and bananas. I think she’s got those red-hot Cheetos you like, too.” Mulley’s father worked for the Rand Corporation, researching the impact of social stratification on the economy.
“Did you know capsaicin elevates blood flow and can even stimulate your critical thinking skills?”
“Go eat. I’ll be in in a minute.”
Mulley sat on a high stool at the kitchen’s island, swinging his legs. “Thanks for the Cheetos, Sis. I think I’d like to try chipotle flavor next time. I wonder if they make a ghost pepper variety.”
“Shut up, Mulls. You and your stupid comments drive me nuts.”
“Dautry, be nice. He’s only seven.” His mother patted the top of Mulley’s head. “He’s got an elevated mind.”
“That’s okay, Mom. Dausie doesn’t like the same things I do.”
“Don’t get freaky around me, Mulls.” Dautry left carrying her sandwich wrapped in a paper towel. “And quit stealing my hairbands to put on your weird burial mounds.”
“They’re offerings to the spirits. You shouldn’t anger the spirits, Dausie.”
Mulley’s mother scooted her daughter down the hallway. “We got a letter from that school we applied to, Mulley. Would you like to hear what they have to say?” She plucked the envelope from her desk. “Hon, lunch is ready. Would you come here while I ready this to Mulley.”
Mulley’s father pulled a stool next to his son, sat and stuffed his mouth with a handful of Cheetos. “Oof, those are hot tamales.”
“Ahem, Dear Mr. and Mrs. Manson, we’re pleased to inform you…”
“Dad, do you know how to make caustic soda?”
“No I don’t, son. But I imagine they do at that college that just accepted you.”
“Yeah, I guess they would.” Mulley took a bite of his sandwich. “Mmm, I like the way Dausie makes lunch.” He pulled an opalescent black feather from his back pocket and twirled it, listening to the fluttering noise it made. “I’d like to learn how to make caustic soda.”